By the age of 40, one in 10 Britons has a chronic gastrointestinal illness. Whilst most of these are benign, it is clear that early recognition and treatment reduces not only the burden of symptoms, but also the potential to develop long-term complications.


What are the cost-free testing options?


The NHS introduced a landmark early detection scheme, the UK Bowel Cancer Screening Programme in 2007 in England and Scotland. This has been complemented by a one-off screening test involving examination of the bowel with a flexible camera (endoscopy), from the age of 55, and has resulted in reduction of the risk of developing bowel cancer by a third.

This sort of change in the course of an all too common disease is a striking example of what can be achieved by searching for a diagnosis proactively, and by the technology-driven changes in endoscopy.


Are there alternatives to endoscopy?


Such technology-driven advances have been seen in many aspects of gastroenterology. This is highlighted by the use of blood and stool tests to diagnose and monitor conditions like Coeliac and inflammatory bowel disease which previously needed endoscopy and x-ray imaging.

Technological advances are also changing treatments – from the new tailored approaches to curing hepatitis C infection to nerve stimulation technology to treat chronic bowel symptoms.


Endoscopy as a solution, as well as a detection


Technology continues to evolve. Endoscopic therapies are emerging as alternatives to surgery for common oesophageal problems like heartburn and reflux. Pre-cancerous lesions in the gullet can be targeted by radio-frequency energy delivered via the endoscope. New endoscopic techniques (e.g. narrow band imaging) provide detailed views of the intestinal lining that allows highly targeted specimens to be taken from suspicious areas.


What should I do now?


The key message is to come forward with your gut symptoms and not sit on them!